The life of primary batteries

22 March 2022 

Primary batteries, or non-rechargeable batteries, are still the more popular option over secondary batteries, or rechargeable batteries, in many cases. Especially in situations where charging the batteries is not possible. That's why primary batteries are often found in military missions, pacemakers, tire pressure gauges, IoT devices, watches, electric remote controls and more. How long primary batteries last depends on a number of factors. The main factors for this are the chemistry of the battery, ambient temperature and energy consumption of the application.

 

The chemistry of the battery

The first factor influencing battery life is the type of battery chosen, i.e. the electrochemistry. For example, lithium batteries last about seven times longer than alkaline, depending on which type of lithium and the brand of battery. More information on different types of primary batteries can be found here.

 

The ambient temperature

The ambient temperature in which the battery is stored and used has a great influence on the battery life. For example, primary batteries are generally best kept cool and dry. Furthermore, primary batteries have an ideal operating temperature at which they can provide the most energy. For alkaline batteries l gt is around 20 °C. When the ambient temperature is significantly higher or lower the performance of the battery will be less. Lithium batteries, on the other hand, can better withstand different temperatures.

 

The energy consumption of the application

Alkaline batteries are ideal when the power used is usually low, such as devices that do not use much power during operation or are used periodically, such as remote controls or radios. Lithium batteries are generally better at handling peak current and can have a higher energy density. Therefore, these batteries are widely used among others in medical devices, IoT applications and smart meters.

 

More info on primary batteries

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Energy agreement requires batteries

17 March 2022 

The convenience of energy from gas and coal will soon be behind us thanks to the energy agreement. We will have to use energy very differently. By 2030, the amount of green electricity we produce in the Netherlands from nature must be increased by five times. This will require hundreds of additional wind mills and the installation of millions of solar panels.

 

The disadvantage of this type of energy is that it is only available when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. So that requires a different approach. The world will start using “smart devices”; that are devices that turn on when a lot of power is available. In a similar way we will be charging the electric car and the industry will also have to deal with power. The chemical factory will soon be running at peak production on a windy day.

 

But in addition, it will continue to be necessary to store electricity. Eneco recently built the largest battery in Europe in northern Germany. The thing is seventy meters long and reportedly cost 30 million euros. The wind energy that can be stored in it is just enough to provide electricity to 5,300 households for one 24-hour period. This mainly proved that this solution is too expensive and extensive for the power supply.

 

However, Elfa expects that large batteries will soon be a part of the electricity grid. After all, these mega batteries are useful for keeping the electricity grid in balance. The frequency of the power grid must remain constantly exact at fifty hertz. Nowadays, gas power plants can still be shut down when the wind is strong, or fired up on cloudy days. But in the near future, those power plants will not be there. Batteries can then provide a buffer that provides stability. Also the batteries from cars for that matter. Soon we will have millions of electric cars in the Netherlands. These cars are stationary more than 90% of the time. At peak times, owners can choose to, power from the car battery back into the grid.

Alternative to the battery; hydrogen!

17 March 2022 

Elfa lives by batteries and has more than 100 years of battery expertise. Yet it is certainly not blind to other developments. We believe that the battery will always play a very important role for small-scale applications. But where the battery will power cars or, even bigger, provide power to homes and companies, we expect its role to become small in the coming decades. After all, hydrogen offers a better alternative.

 

If we want to store wind – and solar power for a long time, converting it to hydrogen seems to be the best option now. The green power splits water into oxygen and hydrogen through a process of electrolysis. Some energy is lost in the process, but the obvious advantage is that hydrogen gas can then be stored in tanks indefinitely. When burned, the energy is released again, but without CO2. Natural gas combustion does. The rest product is pure water.

 

Plans are currently being developed for an energy island in the North Sea with a hydrogen factory that will convert power from offshore wind farms into the clean gas. Factories can use hydrogen as an energy source or feedstock. And through the existing natural gas grid, it can even be brought to our homes. Cars can drive on it. And those hydrogen cars can act as power factories that supply electricity back into the grid at peak times. We believe in it and in the meantime we still see numerous applications for the battery.

Replacing batteries in space

17 March 2022 

On June 26, two Nasa astronauts conducted a spacewalk to replace old nickel-hydrogen batteries with new lithium-ion batteries. The new lithium-ion batteries are lighter and smaller than the old batteries and also have more power capacity.

 

Function of the batteries
All electrical power on the ISS is generated through the station’s solar panels, which convert sunlight into electrical energy. However, during times when the ISS goes through “orbital night,” the solar panels can no longer produce energy. As such, it is necessary for the ISS to store energy in batteries, which it can then use to power its systems during periods of darkness. Every 1.5h the ISS makes an orbit around the earth, 45 minutes of which is in sunlight. During this period, the batteries are charged by the solar panels and the batteries are discharged while feeding the station’s loads during the 45-minute period of darkness per lane.

 

The nickel-hydrogen (Ni-H2) batteries
The ISS has eight separate power channels in total, with each channel having three batteries – although one battery is considered a “series” of two separate battery units connected together, which actually amounts to six batteries per channel, and thus 48 batteries on ISS in total. Each of the old batteries is of the nickel-hydrogen (Ni-H2) type, which have generally always been used in space applications because of their long life, as they can withstand a large number of discharge cycles without major deterioration. In addition, Ni-H2 batteries are not susceptible to overcharging and countercurrent, giving them good safety properties.

 

However, one disadvantage of Ni-H2 batteries is that they are prone to “battery memory,” where the battery can lose some of its capacity if it is not fully charged and discharged during each cycle. For this reason, regular “battery conditioning” is performed on the ISS to prevent battery memory. Each of the station’s Ni-H2 batteries consists 38 individual cells (76 cells per string of two batteries), with each cell consisting of a pressure vessel containing gaseous hydrogen stored to 1,200 psi, which is generated during the charging process itself. The oldest batteries at the station are now about 10 years old and are reaching the end of their design life.

 

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries
This means that replacement batteries are needed to maintain the ISS until its current planned retirement date of 2024. However, Ni-H2 batteries are now considered old technology, as most of the station’s systems were designed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The ISS program has therefore decided to modernize the station’s batteries during the replacement process by switching to modern lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. These battery types operate through lithium ions that move between electrodes during the charging process, rather than pressurized hydrogen gas as used in Ni-H2 batteries.

 

As a result, Li-ion batteries are much lighter and smaller than Ni-H2 batteries because they do not require pressure vessel containers to store hydrogen gas, which means that Li-ion batteries have a very high energy density compared to Ni-H2 batteries. This has many advantages for the ISS program, because it means that only a single Li-ion battery can replace the function of two of the previous Ni-H2 batteries. This means that only half the number of Li-ion batteries (24) are needed to replace all of the station’s Ni-H2 batteries (48), which also halves the number of launches required. Li-ion batteries are also not sensitive to battery memory, so there is no need to condition the battery. However, Li-ion batteries have some drawbacks, namely the fact that they are much more sensitive to overcharging, which must be prevented through battery management and protection systems. In addition, Li-ion batteries typically have a shorter life span than Ni-H2 batteries because they cannot endure as many charge/discharge cycles before experiencing noticeable degradation. However, the ISS Li-ion batteries are designed for 60,000 cycles and a lifetime of ten years. In addition, they will include cell balancing and adjustable charge voltage technology to maximize their lifetime.

Li-ion batteries have experienced notable problems in the past, in the form of overheating and “thermal runaway.” The Li-ion batteries that will be used on the ISS, while manufactured by the same company (GS Yuasa), were designed with lessons learned from the problems, and have passed space certification tests. In particular, ISS Li-ion batteries include two schemes against thermal runaway, voltage and temperature monitoring of individual cells, circuit protection and fault isolation of individual cells, and thermal heat barriers between cell packs.

 

In terms of construction, each ISS Li-ion battery contains 30 individual cells, packed in a box that retains the same dimensions and mounting interfaces as previous Ni-H2 batteries, but with a significantly reduced weight (430 pounds instead of 740 pounds). A single Li-ion battery replaces the functions of two Ni-H2 batteries, but since two Ni-H2 batteries are connected in a “string” and are considered one battery, this means that adapter plates are also needed. This is to connect the single Li-ion battery to the existing connections for the unnecessary second battery in each string, thus completing the circuit.

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